May 26th, 2009
11:58 AM ET
5 years ago

Sotomayor: Gender, ethnicity should influence judges

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WASHINGTON (CNN) - Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor said in a 2001 speech that a judge's gender and ethnicity does, and should, influence his or her decision-making on the bench.

Sotomayor made the comments on October 26, 2001, at a University of California-Berkeley symposium marking the 40th anniversary of the first Latino named to the federal district court.

"I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society," she said at the event, sponsored by the law school. "I further accept that our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions. The aspiration to impartiality is just that - it's an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others."

"Our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice [Sandra Day] O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement," she added. "First, as Professor [Martha] Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

A university media affairs representative confirmed the comments to CNN.

President Obama announced Tuesday his intention to nominate Sotomayor to the high court. She would become the first Hispanic and third female justice in Supreme Court history.


Filed under: Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (91 Responses)
  1. Luke Brown

    I am a white male, and we've used the argument that your race or gender shouldn't affect your decision-making very effectively over the years. We have perpetuated the myth that there is some single Constitutional truth in every case when the blinders of gender and race are set aside.

    The truth is we live in a society that is very much white and male, and that is because most of the key decisions that affect our lives are made by white males.

    Judge Sotomayer is just stating the obvious. If our world was being shaped by the decisions of female women of color, you can bet the white males would be saying exactly the same thing she is saying.

    May 26, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  2. Leslie

    I do not favor Sotomayor for USC nomination, she makes policy in the bench, she makes her OWN laws as she goes along – that is WRONG. Obama can choose someone better than her, QUALIFIED for the job, gender or race shouldn't be an issue.

    Enough of this political correctness, it is destructive.

    May 26, 2009 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  3. Qui-Tam Relator

    ********************************
    Supreme Court Justices should only be allowed to sit on the high court for as long as a president can be voted into office 8 years and no longer. After 8 years as a Supreme Court Judge your idealisms tend to stagnate and not be plyable to future changes! ********************************

    May 26, 2009 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  4. ANGIE IN PA

    Nice to see it wasnt an Old gray haired Man out of touch Like the Republican party! thanks President obama!

    May 26, 2009 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  5. Turnabout is Fair Play

    Kevin in Ohio May 26th, 2009 12:06 pm ET

    This is very very scary. I thought we were past racism and sexism. But I guess the liberals, including Judge Sotomayor, are still sticking to their racist/sexist guns…..
    ----------------------

    Um, Harriet Meyers was VERY VERY scary. You need to remember your former boss's stupidity and how he didn't vet her at all before bringing her before us before you start criticizing our current president's pick. I could go into a whole spiel of scary choices by Bush, including Alito and Scalari (sp) but why state the obvious.. since you are throwing label, you "neo-cons" are always afraid of what you do not understand so you throw accusations and hate because it all you "neo-cons" have left..welcome to irrelevance.

    May 26, 2009 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  6. Enough

    She appears to be openly racist. What is her stand on illegal immigration? Will she push for rights for everyone here illegally? Too bad Obama is so easily influenced and can't make a decision based on qualifications.

    May 26, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  7. Claudia in Houson

    Some of the most intelligent minds in this country are sometimes looked over due to gender and ethnicity. As a nation we cannot continue on this path, we need every intelligent mind in order to prosper in this 21st century or we will be left behind.

    May 26, 2009 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  8. Turnabout is Fair Play

    Ray May 26th, 2009 12:25 pm ET

    What have her decisions been on open borders, illegal immigration, immigration law? BO, ever the friend of big business ,wants to flood the country with illegals to serve his class as nannies and landscapers and to provide cheap labor for his corporate funders. The result will be and has been devastating for the citizen working class.
    ---------------------

    You think our president is a friend of big business? Boy have you screwed and twisted that into a lie! You obviously meant to say BUSH, ever the friend of big business, but hey, just mincing words there right? As far as him devastating the working class, are you high?? He's only been in office 4 months! My God you neo-cons are SO SCARED because your bosses are not in control and ruining this country anymore!

    May 26, 2009 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  9. Chris

    Is that saying that a 'white man' should also do the same? What a comment from someone being placed into such a position.

    May 26, 2009 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  10. Avg Joe

    It would be pointless to have more than one justice if the decisions would be invariably homogeneous. Diversity of opinion is very desirable; some of which should be a product of diversity of background, reflecting our current society. Sotomayor was just being frank, be it a bit naive, considering the predictable responses to this remark.

    May 26, 2009 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  11. @BigMisterC

    Ignorant, mis-informed, hateful comments... appalling response from the right. Shouldn't jurists make rulings based on their life experiences? Can you really expect someone to completely turn off their emotions and not draw from their unique life experiences when making rulings? If you were on trial would you want to be tried by a robot, unwilling to take into consideration your life experiences, your mind-set and your situation when ruling in your case? I know I wouldn't.

    And as far as the people saying that the judicial branch doesn't set policy, have you, any of you ever studied American History or taken a Civics class? Do you not realize that the SCOTUS is the THIRD part of the checks and balances system written into the Constitution? That would make setting policy and intrinisic part of their existance.

    May 26, 2009 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  12. fools, fooled by obama

    Gender and ethnicity has no basis to be a judge. Your FEELINGS have nothing to do with following the constitution Sotomayor. This country will have a hard struggle recovering from the damage this socialist community organizer has and will do to our nation in the next four years.

    May 26, 2009 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  13. Fair is Fair

    Qui-Tam Relator May 26th, 2009 12:29 pm ET

    ********************************
    Supreme Court Justices should only be allowed to sit on the high court for as long as a president can be voted into office 8 years and no longer. After 8 years as a Supreme Court Judge your idealisms tend to stagnate and not be plyable to future changes! ********************************
    _________________________

    You need to go back to high school civics class to learn the system of checks and balances. One of those checks in place for the judicial branch is the lifetime appointment – for good reason.

    May 26, 2009 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  14. donttreadonme

    "Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." -----------

    I find this very offensive and this statement alone disqualifies her as an impartial judge.

    May 26, 2009 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  15. smartest person in the room

    Josh- Rochester, MN May 26th, 2009 12:20 pm ET

    Obama is a racist. He picked her over others because of her race. He is also a sexist. He picked her only because she is a woman.

    Ok, ok… He is likely neither of these, I give you that. I will tell you what he is though: A Liberal populist, afraid of doing anything that might t-off his base. Selecting a Latino female will cover two of his bases. Now if only she was a lesbian.
    ______________________________________________________

    B/c Repugs dont kiss Rush's king every time they say something outof line with him

    May 26, 2009 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  16. Simmy

    She's fearless like Pelosi.......She's going to bring a much needed change......She may even turn Clarence Thomas back......

    May 26, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  17. Fair is Fair

    @ BigMisterC, who said "And as far as the people saying that the judicial branch doesn't set policy, have you, any of you ever studied American History or taken a Civics class? Do you not realize that the SCOTUS is the THIRD part of the checks and balances system written into the Constitution? That would make setting policy and intrinisic part of their existance."
    ________________________

    Respectfully disagree. The purpose of the SCOTUS, indeed a key to the checks and balances system, is to adjudicate cases on the basis of Constitutional law. Setting policy has no right being on the SCOTUS.

    May 26, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  18. Chris

    Disturbing, if for no other reason than, according to Sotomayor, Wise Latino women are, apparently, better than white men, if only for their richness of experience. And you'll notice she doesn't drop the "wisdom" title in front of white males. Perhaps we're incapable of such a thing.

    And former Justice O'Connor was absolutely right. You can wring your hands all you want, and be as wise of a Latino woman as you like, but your vote falls on one side or the other. For every time David Souter wrestled with a decision and landed on the liberal side, however lightly, his vote held no more weight than Scalia's knee-jerk, conservative decisions.

    Perhaps there's more context to Sotomayor's quote. I certainly hope so, because what's here smacks of petty, victim-culture thinking.

    May 26, 2009 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  19. JT

    GOP talking point emerging: This is sooo scary. Very scary. A latino nominated to the Supreme Court. Next thing you'll know – There will be latinos let loose in OUR American streets. Completely pathetic.

    May 26, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  20. rodlang

    "Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

    She will have to explain that statement. Imagine if a white male had stated that his life experience would more often than not allow him to reach a better conclusion than a latina or black female. He would be sunk faster than the Titantic.

    May 26, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  21. donttreadonme

    Steph I don't understand how "right to life" people can be pro-death penalty and pro-war (where innocent people including pregnant women and their unborn children are killed in the cross-fire). Someone (possibly proud army navy mom) please explain this to me!
    -------------------------------–
    We are not Pro-war! War is fought to save lives, defend freedom and people are executed to save and protect lives.
    Do you see the irony in the fact that you libs are ok with abortions of innocent life but are against the execution of people who have killed, raped and murdered. Sadam was one of the biggest war crimes offenders in history murdering 100,000s of people. Where was the UN and the liberal outcry?

    May 26, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  22. Bruce

    Well, so much for fairness. The looney left is alive and well!

    May 26, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  23. RR

    a justice SHOULD do EVERYTHING to be IMPARTIAL and NOT let preconcieved biases based on their race and gender.

    If that was so, we'd still have segregation

    May 26, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  24. JT

    Josh – looks like you're projecting your racism on Obama.

    Not only is Soto a latina, she is extremely well qualified. She is also a female, very well educated, has known poverty first hand, has know what it is like to live with a condition such as diabetes for most of her life. Diabetes is an epidemic in our country. The cost of heath care for that condition alone is not affordable for a growing huge segment of our country. The empathy for those people ALONE, might be a qualifier for the position. Don't waste your time on propagating irrelevant GOP talking points, Josh. That's not the reality that most Americans are living with.

    May 26, 2009 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  25. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    This woman is clearly too biased to render impartial decisions. Judge O'Connor was right, a wise judge would reach the same opinion regardless of race or gender. For Sotomayor to admit her's will factor her decisions is the same as saying "I ignore the law, and go with my gut". Hardly Supreme Court material.

    May 26, 2009 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
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